‘While the Women are Sleeping’ by Javier Marías, translated by Margaret Jull Costa

In some parallel universe, Marías is the love child of Alfred Hitchcock and Jorge Luis Borges. Spain’s most successful contemporary writer, and a likely contender for the Nobel Prize, he is both highly intellectual and highly attuned to the tricks and thrills of popular fiction. His cerebral games recall Borges; his slow-building suspense is worthy of Hitchcock. In Spain Marías is almost as famous for his eccentricity as his writing. He owns two near identical flats in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor, one in which all the furniture is dark and another in which everything is white. He is also the appointed king of a tiny island, Redonda, of which AS Byatt, Alice Munro and Umberto Eco have dukedoms. Not surprisingly, perhaps, Marías’s cleverness has prompted something of an Amis-style backlash in Spain; all the same, he is a dazzling writer.

‘While the Women Are Sleeping’, first published in 1990, contains, in miniature, Marias’s favourite themes: human obsession, voyeurism and abusive relationships. A couple on the beach notice that a man close by is compulsively filming his much younger girlfriend, amassing hours of microscopic footage of her, while she lies almost motionless. When the narrator meets him at their hotel one night, he quizzes the man about his obsession and discovers the chilling reason for it.

First published as ‘Mientras ellas duermen’ in Mientras ellas duermen, Anagrama 1990, translation in While the Women are Sleeping, Chatto and Windus, 2010

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